Business Development Manager Ryan Burke Sees the Forest and the Trees

We meet Ryan Burke on a bright, bracingly cold mid-December day to talk to him about his new role as Business Development Manager for Versatile. As we head out for a stroll through the industrial landscape near the office, Ryan pulls a brown blazer over his grey button-up shirt and dark denim. His youthful face is dominated by neatly trimmed beard that’s more salt and paprika than salt and pepper, and while his demeanor is somewhat serious and no-nonsense, he laughs easily. 

In his early college years, Ryan explored computer programming, then psychology, and even considered becoming a science teacher before ultimately ending up with a twenty-year career in lumber sales. When asked what drew him to Versatile, Ryan explains, “I’ve watched Versatile over the years, and there is a very high level of quality in all that they produce. To have the chance to work with people that put so much time, energy, and craftsmanship into their work, it seemed like a great opportunity.” These warm feelings are clearly reciprocal, as Operations Manager Erica Witbeck describes Ryan in nothing less than glowing terms: “At Versatile, we have been fans of Ryan for years, and were thrilled when he agreed to come onboard. We were always impressed by his knowledge of wood, his understanding of our production needs, and his commitment to service. Ryan could be trusted for fast, thorough, and effective follow-through. His warmth and intelligence always made interactions with him energizing and pleasant, and we were eager to bring that energy in-house,” she says. The way Ryan describes his workplace demeanor as “kind and direct, with a mix of humor” clearly matches others’ perceptions of him.

Ryan and I discuss our admiration of the role Versatile has taken in restoring some of the region’s most memorable and beloved landmarks, including the Hollywood Theatre and Timberline Lodge. But Ryan says that beyond the impressive work Versatile does with these historic structures, “The people are why I came here. The projects are amazingly well done and well known, like we were talking about, but it was about the people. What’s fun for me is that everyone here has this passion for historic preservation.”

An interest in preserving vintage structures is also a part of Ryan’s history; as a youth, he helped renovate both his mother’s and grandmother’s homes. “We were do-it-yourselfers,” he explains with a grin. “For me growing up, it was about the bungalow house that I was remodeling with my mom when I was ten. There’s a whole host of beautiful homes that are getting the attention they deserve by the people who own them and love them, and that’s where my interest level is. There is so much detail that goes into the single family homes.” 

Pacific Northwesterners appreciate forests as both a natural resource and a haven for rest and relaxation, and this is a view that Ryan shares. Like a root system that is deep and intertwined, trees weave a complex pattern through his life. “If you grew up here in the Pacific Northwest as I have, then you can understand that forests mean everything. They are the natural beauty that we wander and play in. Our lumber industry is paramount to the culture here, and they are one of the few renewable resources that we silly humans can manage.” Born and raised in Portland, Ryan grew up skiing, hiking, and camping and enjoys similar activities with his wife and two small children, who are the center of his world outside of work. “We are pretty outdoorsy,” he says with a smile. Favorite spots include the Mount Hood National Forest and Cape Meares, where “one of the very last stands of native Oregon old growth coastal forest . . . stunning vertical sea cliffs and rolling headlands of native Sitka spruce and hemlock” make up the landscape. 

Cape Meares (left) and Mount Hood National Forest (right) – Photos courtesy Eric Muhr and Sarah Ardin.

As we bring our conversation to a close, I ask what Ryan likes about working at Versatile so far.“Shoot, everything!” he exclaims with enthusiasm. “I think they have crafted an incredible team of people at every level.” Asked how he sees his role at Versatile and what he hopes to bring to the table, Ryan pauses thoughtfully. “That’s a good question,” he says. “I think it’s easy for manufacturers to fall in love with the projects they are working on, and my role is to remember that those projects started with solutions and relationships with clients. My focus is on building those relationships and the creative work that goes into finding the solutions they might need.” Refining his answer further, Ryan adds, “I am less of a salesman and more of an advocate for Versatile’s craftsmen and craftswomen. I want to showcase their work.” 

The Value of Meaningful Connections

An Interview with Gary Paquin, Versatile Wood Products, Business Development Manager

I sat down with Gary Paquin this week at our favorite spot near Versatile Wood Products, Broder Nord, to learn more about his background and where he’s headed with his work for Versatile. Gary and I started our talk with some of the marketing items I’ve been working with his team on—social media, overall marketing goals, campaign strategy—but as we got into our conversation I learned that being a Business Development Manager for a windows, doors and cabinetry manufacturing company is much more than just sales. And Gary is much more than just a salesman.

With a background in teaching, building, marketing and sales, Gary’s a bit of a jack of all trades, however what I see as Gary’s best skill is his ability to connect with others.

“I learned the value of networking and making meaningful connections during the recession of 2008. After being laid off from my job in trade sales with Rejuvenation, I knew I had enough of a community of supportive people in my life that I wouldn’t have to wait long for another opportunity.”

Gary Paquin

And wait long he didn’t. Before working for Rejuvenation, Gary had been working for McCoy Millwork in Outside Sales, and then as Sales Manager. When he became open for a job again, McCoy wanted him back. But this time in more of a marketing role instead of direct sales.

“I enjoyed being on a more creative side with managing marketing for McCoy and was working to develop consistency with their brand image. I put together client appreciation events and worked to develop their network by joining and supporting the organizations that made sense with their industry.”

When the job with Versatile came along, Gary had been working for Recology, a commercial trash and recycling company for 8 years.

“Versatile called at just the right time with an opportunity to join their team. I couldn’t wait to get back into the industry I’d started in and reconnect with old friends.”

Gary has been with Versatile for 9 months now and already he’s brought on several big projects, including his most exciting job so far, the “Raleigh Slabtown” job from R&H Construction.

“This is a big job and they went with us because we’re a local company and they believed in our work. We’re creating beautiful, modern storefronts with very large lift-and-slide wood doors for this, and the best part is they’ve planned far ahead so our production team can get a jump on it,” says Gary with a smile.

So what is it like being a Business Development Manager for Versatile Wood Products?

Number one, it’s a lot of outreach. Gary’s day consists of making phone calls, dropping into local building, architecture and design firms to give them the latest Versatile catalogs, and lately it’s been more traveling outside of Portland as they work to expand their market.

“I recently went to Canada for a big project that we’d be a perfect fit for. It was exciting to be up north, and there were other opportunities I was able to seek out while I was there.”

I ask Gary about dropping into businesses and if that’s intimidating at all.

“Most people are very receptive and many of them already know me as the build industry is really one big community.”

Number two, it’s preparing proposals.

“The proposals take a lot of time with this type of work. There are a lot of details and I like to make sure we’re transparent with everything. The level of detail in a custom project can be high, and we work to make sure our proposals are clear and complete.”

With a typical proposal, Gary will put together the line items needed and works with the Product Design team to get accurate pricing. He prides himself on preparing accurate proposals.

“Once the job is defined and signed, there may be an occasional change order at some point, but that’s also part of the process.”

What happens after a sale is closed?

“After making the connection and signing on with a new client, the job is given to Product Design. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, and whether we are working with an old building or new construction, the drafters may schedule a site measure before drafting. This process can take a week, or may take several weeks, depending on scope. Once submittals are approved, the project goes into production. Most jobs take 8-10 weeks to complete, though large commercial projects will move through in phases that may take several months.”

I learned the tricky balance of having enough staff on hand to complete the work as it comes and goes. The ebb and flow of this level of work is something that can’t be easy to stay on top of. But if there is one thing that does seem easy, it’s talking with Gary. I’m pleasantly surprised at how the interview this morning was more than an inspiring talk about the nuts and bolts of managing growth for a high-quality wood products workshop, it was a reminder on the value of meaningful connections with people.

“I like people and that seems to make this kind of work much easier,” Gary says with a chuckle.